Following the announcement of University College Union’s (UCU) controversial marking boycott, the University of Bristol has countered with a statement announcing that any member of staff taking part in the boycott will have 100% of their pay cut. It has also been declared that staff will have their pay docked even if they do the rest of their work which has sparked even further frustration.
In the email sent out to all staff, the HR Director, Guy Gregory, has announced that even if staff perform the rest of their duties the University ‘will be under no obligation to pay at all for any work done during the period in which you participated in this industrial action.’ The legality of this statement has come under question by several members of staff and UBU. Alessandra Berti, UBU’s Welfare and Equality officer, has expressed ‘surprise and disappointment’ with the University’s decision. Many are asking if this is breach of their employment contract; to be paid nothing even if their duties are completed. However, the email states that ‘the withholding of pay is without prejudice to any other right of remedy of the University, including any claim for damages for breach of contract.’
Imogen Palmer, Vice-President Activities, attended two of the forums organised by the UBU for academics and students to discuss the situation and their frustrations. Following the announcement Imogen described the effects she personally witnessed on boycotting staff: ‘I saw an academic cry because she couldn’t afford to feed herself being in heavy debt and on a temporary contract.’ The University is arguing that they cannot talk to students and the UCU because it is the responsibility of UCEA (the organisation that tracks pay across Higher Education) to control the situation nationally. Imogen disagrees with this, ‘they can steer UCEA, do not want to, and now they are trying to force their staff not to protest.’
Bristol staff have struck back at the University’s decision, arguing that they are still planning on marking their students’ work, they are simply not releasing the marks until the University sits down with them to talk options. Although they understand the marking boycott would cause considerable disruption for students waiting for marks for employment and graduation, staff have protested that they are doing their duties but are utilising any upper hand they have to express their anger.
However, students have been angry with how the University and UCU have dealt with the situation and many feel that students have been forgotten in the middle of this battle. ‘The marking boycott is daunting because it severely affects my chances of getting the internship I want this summer,’ one second year commented. Some support the right to protest held by members of staff and believe the University should not have taken such strong steps. One student, for example, believes that the university should be placed under greater scrutiny: ‘We pay the University £9,000 a year, what are they doing with that money if our staff are still protesting pay?’
Original article by Margot Tudor, published in Epigram